Photo by Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images.
Kevin Clash has resigned as Elmo's puppeteer, in the wake of a widening sex scandal involving the longtime Sesame Street staple.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in New York charges Clash with sexual abuse of a second youth. The lawsuit alleges that Cecil Singleton, now a 24-year-old college student, had a two-week relationship with Clash in 2003, at age 15. The lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in damages. Singleton's lawyer, Jeff Herman, a Miami attorney specializing in abuse cases, says he's been contacted by two other potential victims and expects further legal action.
Clash, 52, had been accused last week by a Pennsylvania man of having a sexual relationship when the man was 16. Later he recanted, claiming he was an adult at the time, and Sesame made plans for Clash to return to work.
Sesame did not address the latest allegations in its statement announcing Clash's resignation.
"Sesame Workshop's mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential," the company said. "Kevin Clash has helped us achieve that mission for 28 years, and none of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin's personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from Sesame Street. This is a sad day for Sesame Street."
The company declined further comment, though last week, Sesame said that after a "thorough investigation" that began last June, it found the allegation of "underage conduct" - which Clash denied -- to be unsubstantiated.
Tuesday, Clash did not dispute the charges, but said in a statement, "Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work Sesame Street is doing, and I cannot allow it to go on any longer. I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately."
In the lawsuit, Singleton alleges that while "living a prominent public life centered around the entertainment of toddlers," Clash was, "in secret, preying on teenage boys to satisfy his depraved sexual interests." After conversations on a gay chat line, the suit says, Clash lured Singleton into a sexual relationship, earning his trust with money and "nice dinners." As a "compliant victim," Singleton says he was unaware of Clash's connection to Elmo, and did not recognize his trauma until this year.
"I do see a considerable number of cases, particularly among boys, where they kind of reframed things later on," says David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children research center and a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire. For teens "dealing with sexual-orientation issues or having same-sex experiences, there's an enormous swirl of conflicting stuff that's going on."
Finkelhor says that when others come forward, victims may feel they're "likely to be believed, and feel empowered" to do the same. But "it can also happen that someone sees an opportunity to have a legal case."
While the events threaten to tarnish the image of the children's media company, production of the preschool series has continued, and Elmo will be played by understudies trained by Clash. And some observers say Clash's separation from Sesame Street will mitigate its effect on toy sales entering the holiday season.
"The more publicity Kevin Clash gets, the more separation there is between (him) and Elmo," says Jim Silver, editor of trade magazine Time to Play, citing conversations with panels of preschoolers' moms. "The fact that he's no longer part of Sesame Street is going to make a difference."
Gary Levin, USA TODAY